SOUTH KOREA SPECIAL REPORT: The ECD at the Lotte-owned Daehong Communications talks to Barbara Messer about Korean trends, diversity and lightspeed innovation
In the lead up to AD STARS 2019, Little Black Book chats to three creative leaders in Seoul about the Korean Wave, how ‘sohwakhaeng’ entered the lexicon, and the global influence of director Bong Joon-ho. This week, Barbara Messer catches up with Daehong Communications’ Sunmi Park.
LBB> Can you tell us a little about Daehong Communications – how is it different to other agencies in Seoul? What is the culture like there?
Sunmi> Daehong Communication is the in-house agency of Lotte Group. We are the third or fourth largest agency in Korea. An in-house agency is a unique type of advertising company in Korea. As you know, Cheil Worldwide and Innocean are the in-house agencies of Samsung and Hyundai Motor groups respectively.
As an ad company, when it comes to culture, there is no palpable difference when comparing to others, but we are great at marketing advertisements focusing on people’s lifestyle and consumer goods, because we are affiliated with Lotte group and its philosophy.
LBB> How has the advertising industry in Korea evolved since you landed your first job as a copywriter in 1992?
Sunmi> When I started as a copywriter in 1992, the Korean economy was booming and a lot of companies were investing in advertising. But in the aftermath of the national bail-out in 1997, Korea's economy slowed down and the online era began. Nowadays all communication is being digitized, there's a lot of work to do, but there seem to be fewer advertising campaigns in sight.
The advertising industry is shrinking because the economy is in recession. That means advertising companies don't have to hire more workers, and that young people are heading to the content industry rather than the advertising industry.
LBB> Are there any cultural “faux pas” to avoid when doing business in Seoul?
Sunmi> Cultural things to avoid are similar. For example, political or religious issues should not be addressed in ad campaigns.
The CEO or company owners are usually the decision makers in Korea. It means we must always adjust to their taste. They tend to insist on promoting the product’s selling points rather than creativity. It means they also prefer short-term campaigns to long-term ones, because everything is going fast in Korea. On the other hand, overseas clients have a tendency to build brands in the long term, compared to Korean clients.
LBB> What sort of stories and media formats do consumers in South Korea respond to best?
Sunmi> Recently, Gen Z and Millennials are getting a lot of attention in Korean society. They don’t mingle with others and have a distinct personality that “can lead their consuming patterns”. They prefer brands that represent them to named brands. And they pursue a small but certain happiness – this has become a new word in Korean, ‘sohwakhaeng’. Their preferred social media is mainly focused on YouTube.
LBB> What are your favourite South Korean advertising campaigns?
Sunmi> It's not my favourite Korean ad, but there is one that is always being referenced when discussing mass media culture. The brand was Samsung Anycall, a very famous flip phone before the smartphone came out. Lee Hyo-ri, one of the most popular Korean Pop idol stars, appeared as a model in the commercial, which had a movie-like storyline.
It became the first piece of that we now call ‘branded content’. The storytelling and unconventional imaging technique of the video was praised as a new style of advertisement. The background music became very popular, and there have been a lot of commercials in similar styles since then.
LBB> Are there any influential designers, filmmakers, artists in Korea who inspire you?
Sunmi> I get a lot of inspiration from director Bong Joon-ho who recently won a Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival. His scenarios and storytelling are very unique.
And I like BTS, the famous K-pop group who is loved by young people around the world. Their efforts and passion are very moving.
Recently, I am influenced by Kim Bong-jin, the CEO of a food delivery service named Baemin . As a marketer, his ideas are really creative. Because he is really good at finding out unique points from the norm, he can make campaigns his own.
LBB> Are there any campaigns that you’re particularly proud of making for Lotte?
Sunmi> Daehong Communication does not aim to win a global advertising festival. Because we work with domestic companies, we mainly conduct practical advertising campaigns. But I'm very proud of the ‘Paternity Leave System Campaign’ that took place last year. It was a campaign to encourage male employees to take a leave of absence for their children, and the campaign was initiated from Lotte Group.
In order to boost the nation's declining birth rate and women's participation in Korean society, the campaign made an effort to resolve these issues and to enhance our social values. It won a lot of prizes at domestic ad awards.
LBB> When it comes to diversity, what are the hurdles that still exist in Korea?
Sunmi> Our company offers longer maternity leave for women than others. Although Lotte Group has a women-friendly policy, it still has a conservative side and a male-centered corporate culture. To be honest, there is some sort of glass ceiling. But from my point of view, women themselves should be pioneers. Beyond the gender issue of men and women, the company should focus on the creativity itself.
LBB> Korea ranks #1 in the Bloomberg Innovation Index. Does Korea’s entrepreneurialism rub off on the advertising industry?
Sunmi> It's a difficult question. The biggest advantage of being based in Korea is being fast. It means that Korean companies are expeditious. It could be to do with the competitiveness of Korean companies, and I think the "fast failure" that businesses have recently mentioned has become the motif of innovation. The same goes for the advertising industry. We get new IT technologies and skills every day, and the inside of our companies tend to work with flexibility and agility.
LBB> Daehong’s Pink Light campaign, co-created with the city of Busan, is based on the fact that Korea has an ultra-low fertility rate. What were the challenges of bringing this idea to life?
Sunmi> That campaign was a pure talent donation for Busan city. We worked with a startup that had beacon technology to make it without any cost. Above all, the biggest achievement is the technology reflects the coexistence between pregnant women and ordinary people. I wanted to use technology for human happiness.